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The winners of both the 2022 and 2023 iterations of this tournament, the motivation for Canada this time around is obvious: keep that streak alive. A World Juniors three-peat wouldn't be a new or groundbreaking accomplishment for the Great White North, since they've managed to pull off not one but two staggering five-championship runs in the past, first from 1992 to 1997 and then again from 2005 to 2010. However, this particular group won't be quite as star-studded as some of those prior ones were, and are now considered more of a marginal favourite, at best, to skate out of Gothenburg with gold medals around their necks.

The biggest difference this year for Canada will be the absence of a true game-breaking talent, which Connor Bedard proved himself to be multiple times in Halifax, often putting the whole team on his back. This time around they will have to work a whole lot more as a cohesive team, and on paper they certainly have as much skill, depth and balance as they need. This is, after all, a roster with 10 prospects who have already been selected in the 1st round of the NHL draft, with a nicely proportional split of six forwards and four defensemen. There are also five players here who have already dressed for NHL regular season games, providing an advantage of experience that no other nation will be able to match.

There is one major ruffle for Canada, though, and stop me if you've heard this one before: the goaltending is a question mark. It might even be the biggest question mark we've seen for them at this position in the past decade of tournaments, if not longer. The team's brass has brought three netminders along for the ride, two of whom were each passed over in both years of their draft eligibility thus far, while the third was drafted but has struggled mightily this season and is the youngest of the trio. It's anyone's guess as to which one will still be between the pipes when this team's tournament ends.

With the United States and Sweden both fielding strong rosters of their own, this group of Canadians will need to find their collective identity early on and do everything they can to not lose track of it.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 29: Canada's Macklin Celebrini #17 celebrates after scoring during the Sweden vs Canada Semifinal Round action at 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at St. Jakob Arena on April 29, 2023 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/IIHF)

Key Players:

Owen Beck — C/W

Beck is the only returning player from last year's Canadian roster, which will bestow upon him additional responsibilities and pressure, even though he previously only dressed for three of the games and didn't see a lot of ice time. Luckily for him he'll get to play more of a Swiss army knife kind of role here, where he can move around the lineup and get slotted in wherever his coaches think his talents — primarily his blazing speed and consistent work rate — will be best utilized. Also making matters a little easier is that he went on a deep OHL playoff run with the Peterborough Petes this past spring, playing a leading role as they won the league title and advanced to the Memorial Cup, so he's already quite familiar with high-stakes hockey.

Macklin Celebrini — C/W

Let's get this out of the way first: with all due respect to Celebrini, he's not in the same echelon as Bedard was last year, even though he also made the team as a 17-year-old and will almost assuredly get picked 1st overall in the following NHL draft. That said, he's still one hell of a player, and could genuinely turn out to be Canada's most important offensive weapon. He's been utterly dominant this season with Boston University despite being the youngest player in all of college hockey, so it stands to reason that he could also excel here against competition that is predominantly older than him. Mature and wise well beyond his years, there's nothing that he can't do when he steps over the boards, but if anything really pops for him it will probably be his big-time shot.

Nate Danielson — C/W

This World Juniors will be Danielson's debut at the major international level, and if he's not excited yet about playing on the bigger ice surfaces of Europe then he probably will be shortly after the puck is dropped. He's a magnificent skater and incredible athlete, and he'll really get to show those attributes off with all the newfound time and space that he'll get to work with. He regularly kills penalties with the Wheat Kings back in Brandon, and if Canada extends those duties for him — which they likely will — then he'll be a shorthanded scoring threat every time he's on the job thanks to his straight-line speed. He's another plug-and-play forward who could see his usage and linemates fluctuate depending on what his coaches need in any given moment.

Maveric Lamoureux — D

A 6-foot-7 giant with legitimately high-end skating ability, Lamoureux could be an enormous headache for opposing forwards all tournament. With his long stick and fluid crossovers he's uniquely equipped on international ice to keep the play to the outside and prevent high-danger chances while defending off-puck. He will also have more breathing room to move or skate the puck out of his zone when he does get it, which can often be an issue for him back home. He's a point-per-game player right now in the QMJHL, but his role with Canada will undoubtedly be as one of the go-to defenders for penalty killing, tough match-ups and defending late leads. He'll be at his most effective if he can keep his game simple.

Tristan Luneau — D

The reigning QMJHL Defenseman of the Year, Luneau is going to be a minute-munching monster for the Canadians because he's superbly versatile, poised and responsible. There's a quiet brilliance to how he plays, always calculating the play in front of him as it unfolds and then making the corresponding correct decisions, which makes a huge difference for whatever team he's on even if it doesn't get him into many highlight packages. The fact that he's been playing professional hockey all season, split between the NHL and the AHL, will help close the gap of an advantage that is always held by the top European nations. This event could be a huge coming-out party for a player who isn't a well-known hockey name yet but will be eventually.

Denton Mateychuk — D

Mateychuk has been a powerplay monster this season in the WHL, with 15 of his 35 points (in just 24 games) coming on the man advantage, so you can expect him to be Canada's blueline anchor in these situations in this tournament. That top unit in Moose Jaw has some elite forwards on it, so he'll already know how to strike the right balance between when to be the focal point and when to defer to his mates. It might take him a few games to get fully comfortable with that kind of pressure, however, as his only international experience to date came in a limited role as a 16-year-old at the 2021 IIHF U18s. The quality of penalty killers opposing him will be something new.

Fraser Minten — C/W

This will be Minten's first time donning the maple leaf, but don't expect him to get nervous or overwhelmed — if someone plays a few games with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a teenager then everything else in their hockey-playing lives probably seems like small potatoes in comparison. Team Canada's locker room is his fourth different one this season, going from Toronto back to the WHL's Kamloops Blazers before getting dealt to the Saskatoon Blades shortly after, so he should be able to gel with his unfamiliar new teammates a little more quickly and easily than most, which could be a huge benefit in such a short tournament. Expect to see him on the ice a lot during important, white-knuckle moments, especially defensive situations.

Matthew Poitras — C/W

It came as a surprise that the Stanley Cup-contending Boston Bruins allowed Poitras to leave them and join this roster, considering he's already scored 13 points as an NHL rookie and hasn't looked out of place at all through 27 games. But hey, Hockey Canada will happily take the early Christmas gift. It's an especially welcome addition because he brings well-rounded offensive expertise to a squad that might have a tougher time scoring goals than fans usually expect. He wasn't part of the selection camp or warm-up games, though, so he will likely need some time before he can fully adjust and get his feet under him. Once that does happen, he could turn out to be Canada's ace in the hole, as no other country will get to utilize a prospect with this much NHL experience.

Carson Rehkopf — C/W

Rehkopf has been a goal-scoring machine this season with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, amazingly maintaining a goal-per-game pace and currently leading the entire league with 31 tallies. He can fill the back of the net in a variety of ways, but it's his ability to finish from distance that will likely be the most valuable for the type of hockey that we will see. A plus skater, he will be able to keep up just fine if things turn into a track meet, and he'll be one of the few Canadian forwards who is a serious threat to single-handedly score off the rush. But if his coaches need him to assume a bottom six role instead that shouldn't be an issue, as he did that job very well at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup

Matt Savoie — W

Don't be surprised if Savoie comes out of this tournament as its leading scoring, or at least comes close. Not only does he possess the pure skill and clever creativity needed to be a premier offensive generator in best-on-best competition, he's one of Canada's best options for times when they need a goal the most. Whether it's a key powerplay or a race to tie the game, his name is going to be one of the first bodies to come over the boards. He is an expert at playing with — and elevating — talented linemates, but he also has the ability to provide a spark all by himself if he has to, and he usually knows the right path to take in the heat of the moment.


Mathis Rousseau — G

Two NHL entry drafts have come and gone without Rousseau hearing his name get called, but the third time could be the charm if he backstops Canada to another World Junior gold medal. How's that for motivation? Now, it needs to be said that the starting job on this team is still up for grabs overall and could be subject to change at any moment. That said, Rousseau has the best club stats coming in, and he backstopped Halifax to the QMJHL final last season, so he's the slight favourite to be The Guy come the medal rounds. He's a quick, focused, consistent goalie who does a great job reading the play and stopping the shots from distance that he sees, and his defenders should be able to help create that environment for him. Is he up to the task? A nation's hockey hopes might depend on it.